In what must be one of the strangest debates of a strange time, it now appears the American left is in a heated argument with itself over whether the killing of Osama bin Laden was murder or was appropriate in the context of our democratic system.
To try and help our colleagues out in this exercise in the hubris of the intellectual elite, we should begin with a discussion of the 20th century. This was a time when the world suffered from the depredations of three of the most evil people in history: Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong and Adolf Hitler. Each was responsible for the death of millions of people, most of whom were innocent of any transgression other than to be of the wrong race, religion or in the wrong place.
Clearly, there is a great deal of validity to this view of world progress being a continuum of numerous events, natural occurrences and actions that take place for reasons far beyond a single individual’s influence.
But, on the other hand, it is equally clear that individuals who come to power under certain circumstances can supersede this continuum and direct the course of history in a dramatic manner.
The question must therefore be asked: If such individuals who are fundamentally evil can rise to a position where they are capable of ordering the killing of millions of people, as Mao, Hitler and Stalin did, should they be tolerated?
Does anyone who is now arguing it was not within the constitutional authority of our government and specifically our president to order the killing of bin Laden, also argue that if Roosevelt could have eliminated Hitler in 1938, he should not have done it? Further, if you accept the killing of people as part of the legitimate action of war, which it must be if you are to succeed in war, than how can you not accept the killing of an individual who is the perpetrator of that war? What is the difference between ordering the firebombing of Dresden as an act of war in an attempt to stop the murderous activities of the Nazis and the killing of bin Laden?
The difference is that by killing bin Laden before he could order further attacks on our nation, we may have forestalled the death of thousands of innocent people. Dresden might not have had to be bombed if Hitler had been killed in 1938. It seems uniquely inconsistent to accept acts of war that kill thousands of people while debating whether an act like killing bin Laden is appropriate because he is an identifiable individual.
When a person like bin Laden who is determined to commit mass murder chooses a democracy as his enemy, it is not only correct but also the responsibility of the leadership of that democracy to defend it.
This is exactly what Obama has done by ordering the termination of bin Laden.
There is no fine line here; there is no issue of constitutional right or wrong or whether the authority lies with the president to pursue this course of action. In fact, a president who did not order bin Laden killed would be opening the nation to massive potential loss of life and another attack like that of 9/11. He would be failing in his oath of office to defend the nation.
Because we are governed by the rule of law this does not mean that as a nation we should not defend ourselves from a clear and deadly threat. If that defense requires the termination of a monster, whether it’s a Hitler or a bin Laden, then that is the course of action we must take.
History will not be able to recount what horrors bin Laden might have promoted because he is dead and they will not occur.
It will of course be able to look at the terror and death of innocent people on 9/11 as a preamble to what might have occurred. History will probably not give credit for preempting this type of terror to Obama because of his definitive decision to eliminate bin Laden. Rather, the elite of the left will debate the appropriateness of this action, safe to do so because the democracy which gives them that right is able to do so in part because of the killing of bin Laden.
Judd Gregg is a former governor and three-term senator from New Hampshire who served as chairman and ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and also as ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Foreign Operations Subcommittee.